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Effective Hiring for Smaller Businesses

By Julie King |

Is the candidate you are considering the right person for your job? Due to haphazard hiring procedures many small businesses have a 20% chance of hiring the best person. Considering how expensive and time consuming it is to hire employees, those are not good odds.

There are really two key challenges to the hiring process: getting access to people and then evaluating those people. The latter is something that small businesses often don`t do very well.

I spoke with a successful recruitment professional, off the record, to learn the secrets to hiring successfully. At the end of the interview I had an outline of a structured, highly effective five step process that can double the likelihood of success in the small business hiring process. Here is how it works.

Step 1: Write an effective job description.

It takes time to write a job description, but this step in the hiring process must not be skipped. You are making a significant finanical investment in the person you hire; it is well worth it to take the time to establish a position-specific job description that outlines the scope and parameters of the job.

A good job description will clearly state what you are looking for. It will also attract the best candidates, so acts as a marketing tool. Your job description should include position responsibilities, background and skills as a minimum standard. Some companies also include a company description to help attact candidates.

The job description is particularly important if more than one person will be involved in the interview. However, even if there is only one person doing the interview the job description forces you to evaluate each candidate to a constant standard.

Ideally you will use a grid to evaluate candidates against your hiring criteria. This helps you maintain your objectivity and will help you back-up your hiring decision if anyone ever claims that you discriminated against them during the hiring process.

A job description continues to have value once a person is hired, as it can be used in an HR capacity by providing a clear and documented outline of what is expected of the hiree.

Step 2: Conduct a structured, effective interview

When a candidate arrives for an interview, there are three things you need to address.

  1. The candidate's career background.
  2. The candidate's skill as they relate to the skills you are looking for.
  3. The reasons a good candidate should want to accept a position at your firm.

Too often question one is the whole interview in smaller companies, when it should only take up a small part. Ideally, you would structure a one hour interview to spend 15 minutes on question one, 30 minutes on question two and 15 minutes on the promotion of the company. Leave an extra fifteen minutes at the end to make notes after the candidate has left.

Here are some questions and considerations for each stage of the interview.

First 15 minutes:
Your goal is to understand the candidate's career background and some of their career motivations. Questions are broad in scope and touch on key aspects of the resume.

"Take me through the context of your career."
"Why did you make this career shift?"
"Why did you decide to pursue [this particular education]?"
"Why did you leave [company name]?"

Next 30 minutes:
Here you want to focus on the skills you are looking for. Your goal is to find out if the candidate has the skills needed to be successfull in the position. Ideally, you will look for concrete examples from their past work that demonstrate their capabilities.

"Give me an example of how you grew revenue at the company you currently work for."
"Your resume shows that you have strong project management skills. Tell me about a project that you think best demonstrates how you were able to use those skills in your current position."
"Give me an example of how you responded to a client who was angry about [a relevant problem]."

Clearly the questions need to be tailored to the specifics of the job you are interviewing for, but this type of open ended questioning really gives the candidates the opportunity to shine – or to let you find out if they really don't have the skills they included on their resume. Some candidates may not have direct experience, but will provide another example from a similar situation, which gives you the opportunity to evaluate them against their next best example.

Don't be afraid to ask really tough or honest questions. Candidates who have been through this tough process will be more motivated, because it will make them feel that your company takes its recruiting seriously. People are attracted to a challenge and will value a position when they have had to prove they deserve it. However, avoid questions that are too "out of the box".

The final 15 minutes
In a small business, if you like what you heard from the candidate in the first two parts of the interview then you need to use the final part to sell. This is the time for you to explain why your company is great and why the person should be interested in accepting the position. It is better to leave this to the end, because then you can target your information and answers to the candidate.

For example, you may have heard that the candidate is looking for a new job that will cut his or her commute time. You can then emphasise this during the final fifteen minutes.

Step 3: Hold a decision meeting

Let's face it, in many smaller companies the decision meeting consists of the company founder saying "This is how it's going to be." While that is not unusual, neither is it ideal.

A grid is great for discussion. You can have everyone involved with the interview fill in a grid in advance and then compare them. This should never be done in front of the candidate. Discuss the candidates, considering their skills, needs and how they would fit into the culture of your organization. At the end of the meeting you should have a short list of possible hires.

Step 4: Check out your short listed candidates

Never assume that the information a candidate put down on his or her resume is correct. Check their education credentials. Check past employment (but not their current employer) and check their references. Some employers will call the current employer to confirm the person's title and email, but that is a bit sneaky and may be a warning flag to the current employer in a smaller company.

A much better way to check references than relying on two or three names submitted by the candidate, is to ask for a list of the candidate's bosses, peers and direct reports. Keep in mind that you cannot call the current employer, so this assumes that the candidate had other jobs. You can ask if there is someone you can speak with from the current company.

You would then select randomly from that list to conduct your reference check. The key thing is that you want choice in who you ask about the candidate. References should be viewed not as a disaster check, but rather an opportunity to gather valuable information on someone.

The reason this approach works so well is that you get third party confirmation of the candidate's abilities. Keep in mind that this approach tells you about both the positive and negative aspects of the candidate. Look for references to be balanced, but none are perfect. Comments on the person's development needs can help you turn a strong candidate into a fantastic employee. What you want to be cautious of are negatives that become thematic and look like they could be a serious issue if you hire the person.

When you do a reference call, you need a script that lists the 4 to 5 things you want to focus on. These should come from the job description, considering both the hard and soft skills that you need for the position. This approach takes time. If you are not willing to do it properly, don't do it at all.

Step 5: Making the offer

The first part of the offer should be verbal. Before you speak to the person, you should know what they are currently earning. Most candidates will provide this information during the interview.

When you speak with your choice candidate, explain your reasons for the offer. This is an opportunity to put the offer in context with what the position means to your company.

Try to get a verbal understanding before you put the offer on paper. Paper is just the formality. If things are all good you can send the written offer with the start date and get a signature back. Congratulation; if the process worked well you will have just added an excellent person to your team.

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